'absorption' (meditation) refers chiefly to the four meditative absorptions of the fine-material sphere (rūpa-jjhāna or rūpāvacara-jjhāna; s. avacara).
They are achieved through the attainment of full (or attainment -, or ecstatic) concentration (appanā, s. samādhi), during which there is a complete, though temporary, suspension of fivefold sense-activity and of the 5 hindrances (s. nīvarana).
The state of consciousness, however, is one of full alertness and lucidity. This high degree of concentration is generally developed by the practice of one of the 40 subjects of tranquility meditation (samatha-kammatthāna; s. bhāvanā).
Often also the 4 immaterial spheres (arūpāyatana) are called absorptions of the immaterial sphere (arūpa-jjhāna or arūpāvacara-jjhāna). The stereotype text, often met with in the Suttas, runs as follows:
(1) "Detached from sensual objects, o monks, detached from unwholesome consciousness, attached with thought-conception (vitakka) and discursive thinking (vicāra), born of detachment (vivekaja) and filled with rapture (pīti) and joy (sukha) he enters the first absorption.
(2) "After the subsiding of thought-conception and discursive thinking, and by gaining inner tranquility and oneness of mind, he enters into a state free from thought-conception and discursive thinking, the second absorption, which is born of concentration (samādhi), and filled with rapture (pīti) and joy (sukha).
(3) "After the fading away of rapture he dwells in equanimity, mindful, clearly conscious; and he experiences in his person that feeling of which the Noble Ones say, 'Happy lives the man of equanimity and attentive mind'; thus he enters the 3rd absorption.
(4) "After having given up pleasure and pain, and through the disappearance of previous joy and grief, he enters into a state beyond pleasure and pain, into the 4th absorption, which is purified by equanimity (upekkhā) and mindfulness.
(5) "Through the total overcoming of the perceptions of matter, however, and through the vanishing of sense-reactions and the non-attention to the perceptions of variety, with the idea, 'Boundless is space', he reaches the sphere of boundless space (ākāsānañcāyatana) and abides therein.
["By 'perceptions of matter' (rūpa-saññā) are meant the absorptions of the fine-material sphere, as well as those objects themselves . . . " (Vis.M. X.1).
"By 'perceptions of sense-reactions' (patigha-saññā) are meant those perceptions that have arisen due to the impact of sense-organs (eye, etc.) and the sense-objects (visible objects, etc.). They are a name for the perception of visible objects, as it is said (Jhāna-Vibh.): 'What are here the perceptions of sense-reactions? They are the perceptions of visible objects, sounds, etc.' - Surely, they do no longer exist even for one who has entered the 1st absorption, etc., for at such a time the five-sense consciousness is no longer functioning. Nevertheless, this is to be understood as having been said in praise of this immaterial absorption, in order to incite the striving for it" (Vis.M. X.16).
"Perceptions of variety (ñānatta-saññā) are the perceptions that arise in various fields, or the various perceptions" (ib.). Hereby, according to Vis.M. X.20, are meant the multiform perceptions outside the absorptions.]
(6) "Through the total overcoming of the sphere of boundless space, and with the idea 'Boundless is consciousness', he reaches the sphere of boundless consciousness (viññānañcāyatana) and abides therein.
(7) "Through the total overcoming of the sphere of boundless consciousness, and with the idea 'Nothing is there', he reaches the sphere of nothingness (ākiñcaññāyatana) and abides therein.
(8) "Through the total overcoming of the sphere of nothingness he reaches the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (nevasaññā-n'asaññāyatana) and abides therein."
"Thus the 1st absorption is free from 5 things (i.e. the hindrances, nīvarana), and 5 things are present (i.e. the factors of absorption; jhānanga). Whenever the monk enters the 1st absorption, there have vanished sensuous desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and scruples, doubts; and there are present: thought-conception (vitakka), discursive thinking (vicāra) rapture (pīti), joy (sukha), and concentration (samādhi). In the 2nd absorption there are present: rapture, joy and concentration; in the 3rd: joy and concentration; in the 4th: equanimity (upekkhā) and concentration" (Vis.M. IV).
The 4 absorptions of the immaterial sphere (s. above 5-8) still belong, properly speaking, to the 4th absorption as they possess the same two constituents. The 4th fine-material absorption is also the base or starting point (pādaka-jhāna, q.v.) for the attaining of the higher spiritual powers (abhiññā).
In the Abhidhamma, generally a fivefold instead of a fourfold division of the fine-material absorptions is used: the 2nd absorption has still the constituent 'discursive thinking' (but without thought-conception), while the 3rd, 4th and 5th correspond to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th, respectively, of the fourfold division (s. Tab.I. 9- 13) . This fivefold division is based on sutta texts like A . VIII, 63 .
For the 8 absorptions as objects for the development of insight (vipassanā), see samatha-vipassanā. - Full details in Vis.M. IV-X.
Jhāna in its widest sense (e.g. as one of the 24 conditions; s. paccaya 17), denotes any, even momentary or weak absorption of mind, when directed on a single object.